What is the qualitative workshop?
Workshops are a group-based method of research in which there is an emphasis on activity-based, interactive working. The focus is on everyone participating and undertaking the work. Therefore, when using this type of research technique, the researcher acts as a facilitator, rather than leading the discussion or activity.
When should it be used?
There are a variety of reasons why it would be appropriate to hold workshop sessions, including:
Raising awareness (e.g. about a new funding stream and how to apply);
Capturing views and information (e.g. about local service provision);
Building consensus (e.g. to take forward a draft strategy or action plan);
Developing skills and capacity (e.g. on how to implement emerging government policy).
What do I need to consider?
Workshops need to be well planned, this will often involve establishing the date/time/location of the workshop as early as possible; inviting potential participants to the workshop by letter/email and requesting confirmation of their attendance; distributing background papers and the objectives/required outcomes of the workshop in advance; and preparing practical aids for use in the workshop itself (e.g. photos, maps, flipcharts, presentations, models).
Workshops vary in size according to the nature of the subject, the specific group involved and the required outcomes of the session. Workshops can contain as few as 4 participants and as many as 25.
The length of the workshop will vary depending on factors such as the planned activities, the time available and the required outcomes. Workshops can range in duration from one hour to full day sessions. However, it is important to be aware of the time pressures under which people work and to ensure that the scheduling and duration of the workshop(s) is appropriate.
The emphasis during workshops is on participation. This can be encouraged through stimulating debate (e.g. posing questions) and encouraging collaborative working (e.g. group activities). A variety of mechanisms can be employed to encourage interaction, including:
- Model making;
- Physical and mental mapping;
- Ranking and prioritisation;
- Drawing and photography;
- Role play.
The techniques selected need to be tailored according to the specific group of participants (e.g. strategic decision makers, project staff, young people) and the outcomes required.
It is imperative that workshops have clear objectives and are grounded in the required outcomes of the session. Key to the achievement of this are the pre-workshop activities that are undertaken to design, plan and prepare for the workshop itself (see above). The emphasis on outcomes is important for all concerned – it enables a gathering of information, perceptions and responses to contribute to the overall research, whilst enabling participants to understand the focus of the session, which, in turn, allows them to play a full role. If your participants understand your aims for the workshop, then the session is likely to be more productive.
What is the output?
The output of a workshop will be dependant on the types of activities undertaken, but may include flip chart material, drawings and diagrams and lists of factors, possibly ranked. It is important that all materials and notes from the workshop are collated, analysed and fed into the research findings.
How should it be analysed?
QSR International’s NUD*IST & NVIVO computer packages enable non-statistical information from group work, observations, audio, video, pictures or documents to be analysed according to chosen criteria. These are powerful pieces of software that can provide clarity to a wide range of often complicated written or media materials (see section on qualitative survey analysis).
Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDA) – http://caqdas. soc.surrey.ac.uk/ – provides practical support, training and information in the use of a range of software programs designed to assist qualitative data analysis. Also provides various platforms for debate concerning the methodological and epistemological issues arising from the use of such software packages.
Facilitating Workshops – Practical Tips for Workshop Facilitators, Seeds for Change